KKL-JNF dedicated a memorial site last week for former prisoners-of-war and IDF soldiers missing in action. The ceremony was attended by Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman, Jerry Werger, President of JNF Toronto, Canada, Allen and Janet Werger and members of the family whose contributions enabled the establishment of the memorial site; members of "Erim BaLayla"- Awake at Night, The Association of former Israeli POW's, Raanan Eliran and other distinguished guests.
Efi Stenzler expressed his gratitude to the Friends who established the site and monument for former POW's - "a commemoration and recognition of the courage and heroism of former prisoners of war."
Raanan Eliran, Board member of "Erim BaLayla" and a former pilot who was taken prisoner by the Egyptians during the 1973 Yom Kippur War explained that "Erim BaLayla helps former POWs who are still struggling today."
Allen Werger spoke at the ceremony to the family's children, asking them to go on contributing, as it is not just the receiver who benefits from the contribution, but the donor as well.
The project, the result of cooperation between KKL-JNF and Erim BaLayla, began two years ago and included the planting of a grove in the forest in commemoration of former prisoners of war. KKL-JNF contributed approximately 3,000 trees that are tended by students from the Rabin School in Modi'in. The site also has picnic facilities for members of the association and serves as a place for events and ceremonies held by the association. Members of Erim BaLayla hike on the Israel Route each month accompanied by KKL-JNF guides and will hold a ceremony at the site when they complete their walk along the entire route.
The impressive monument at the site was planned and built by Yaakov Danino - project manager for the northern region of KKL-JNF as well as a former POW who was captured by the Egyptians during the Yom Kippur War. "Working on the memorial took me back to all the terrible experiences I had. It is especially hard for me on Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Yom Kippur."
The monument is made up of four large stones that represent the four main fronts of Israel's wars: a stone from the Galilee representing the Lebanon front, a basalt stone from the Golan representing the Syrian front, a granite stone for the Egyptian front and a Hebron stone representing the Jordanian front. The stones are covered with a metal grid representing imprisonment. A partially-open gate stands between the stones. Danino explains, "Former POWs have returned home, but deep inside they will never be totally free from what they underwent. This is the message I am trying to get across. We will always have to live with it."
Erim BaLayla represents 450 soldiers who were taken prisoner by the enemy during the course of their military service, 11 of whom are women. Almost half of the former POW's are needy, cannot be rehabilitated and are unable to work. Erim BaLayla helps these veterans in the battle of survival they have been waging since they were released. The association represents them in the rehabilitation department and defense ministry and helps former POW's and their families in their struggle for daily existence.
During the ceremony the participants planted a tree in honor of former POW's and soldiers missing in action who have not returned.